New Age music under the same roof with merchandising, promotion and distribution? With Muzak?
Can it really be that the entrepreneurial mavens of the floating, meditative sounds sometimes described as “yuppie wallpaper music” are actually dealing with the facts and figures of the business world just like any other record producers?
If last week’s second annual International New Age Music Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel was any indication, the answer is yes. But with a number of provisos.
“There are always opposites involved in everything,” explained Suzanne Doucet, director of the conference. “Our hope is that the conference will help bring some of those opposites together.
“We’ve got traditional music industry people . . . and we’re trying to bring them together with people who have been working for 15 years making music in their garages, building their own instruments. Hopefully, they can all learn a lot from each other.”
The conference, which attracted 150 to 200 people and concluded Saturday night, provided ample opportunities for such interfacing to take place. Starry-eyed New Agers came face to face with merchandising matters in a series of seminars covering such down-to-earth topics as “Worldwide Sources of Income” and “Distribution--A Question of Alternatives.”
The artist/performers returned the favor with a continuing program of recordings, videos and aural environments that included such typically New Age presentations as “Heart Life,” (the first in a series of records designed to “tap the energy of the open heart”), “Flight of the Stork” (a “glimpse of life from a higher view”) and a conference-concluding multimedia event by the multimedia artist Iasos.
The opening night Crystal Awards were a further indication of the growing effort to bring New Age music into the business mainstream. Two of the four awards were in the commercial area: for business, to distributor Michael Anderson and, for media, to broadcaster Stephen Hill. The remaining two awards, both in the creative area, went to Iasos, for music, and to producer Ken Jenkins for video.
Steven Halpern, who was composing New Age music long before it became a commercial phenomenon, saw real value in the conference’s desire to integrate New Age music into the mainstream business community. “When I came out of the ‘60s,” he said, “I didn’t want to have anything to do with business. And the result was that I was constantly being wiped out.
“Since then, I’ve learned that if I was going to have time for my music, I was going to have to learn about business. Because if I didn’t, I’d have to spend a good part of my time doing non-musical things--teaching school, for one--just to survive. The challenge, of course, is not to let the business overwhelm everything else.”
Halpern’s solution has been to “begin operating more as a record company. I’ve had to get a personal manager, a business manager, sales managers, distributors and the like,” he explained. “And I’ve come to realize that to reach a larger audience I’ve got to incorporate some more accessible, more familiar elements into my music, keeping the essential integrity while adding a beat here and there.”
Keynote speaker Paula Jeffries, president of Goldcastle Records, viewed the New Age/music business connection from another perspective. “The big companies have a lot to learn from the entrepreneurs of the New Age labels,” she said.
“Six years ago, for example, Windham Hill became very interesting to A&M.; And one of the things the big companies have learned is that music that appeals to the public doesn’t always have to start out with the marketplace in mind. It can, and should, come straight from the heart.”
Halpern, however, cautioned that the marriage between New Age music and commerce has its limits. “Authentic New Age music must continue to do what it’s supposed to do--heal and reach out on an internal level.”
“In that sense, my approach will never change,” he said, underlining a theme that seemed to concern a number of attendees at the conference. “I will never do a piece of disco. I will never do something in which the tones are angular, the rhythms are jagged and the music disrupts the natural rhythms of the body, no matter what the sales potential.”
But Tim Pinkelmann, a Muzak representative from Seattle, took a different slant--one that will undoubtedly confront the New Agers as they face the realities of promotion, distribution and marketing.
“New Age is doing great for us,” he said with a smile. “It’s the perfect background music for retail stores.”